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"Overwhelming" Donations To West Relief Efforts

WEST (CBSDFW.COM) - People around the nation had a strong reaction after a fertilizer plant explosion destroyed homes and took lives in the small town of West. Assistance poured in from across Texas and places beyond, in the form of volunteers and donations of food, water and supplies.

"Overwhelming" was the word volunteers used to describe the truckloads of donations shipped to West residents and emergency crews.

Andrea Sulak appreciates everyone's help and hard work. She and her family lived about a mile away from the blast, and evacuated from West with little more than the clothes on their backs. "My son's been waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares, screaming," she said, fighting back tears. "We got him a dog last night, a stuffed animal. He seems to have been doing much better."

Officials in nearby Hill County pitched in to take some of the load away from the recovering town. An empty storefront at the Hillsboro Outlet Mall was turned into an impromptu collection site. A group of college students helped sort the donations, and returned to West to deliver them all to the proper places.

Organizers of the donation site said that the generosity of Texans has been mind-boggling. "It has been unreal," said volunteer Sheri Hemrick. "We have had children coming in here with cups of money -- their money. It's just overwhelming to see how this community has come together."

Jodi Bryan drove down to Hillsboro from McKinney to deliver bags of comfort items for the displaced kids. It was the least she could do, she said, in the face of a rough situation. "Absolutely heartbreaking," Bryan said. "This is all that I could do for them, and I'm glad to do it."

To put the number of donations in perspective, donors have given 58,000 cases of bottled water. And that is just at one donation site. There are only about 2,800 people in the town of West, but organizers said that none of the donations will go to waste. That said, officials asked that kind folks who wish to contribute to relief efforts give money going forward.

The first homeowners were allowed back into neighborhoods on Saturday, and many are just now seeing the true magnitude of the community's loss from this explosion. The Sulak family found signs of damage at their house, but their home still stands. They have neighbors, however, whose homes are gone. They will certainly need cash to get back on their feet.

"We saw pickup trucks that were destroyed, just totally like they imploded, like they caved in," said Hemrick. "Although they have insurance, there's going to be deductibles and other expenses that these families will have just to get back functioning to go to work."

But whether it comes in the form of cash, clothes, shampoo or prayers, survivors are certainly feeling the love. "It's amazing! I don't even know how to explain how good it feels to have this many people come into such a small community and help out like they have," said Krystal Vanek, who also lived about a mile away from the blast site. "It's amazing!"

"I feel like we're getting a big, old hug," said Sulak with a laugh. "A big, old, Texas hug."

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